National Portrait Gallery cuts ties with BP after more than 30 years - Museums Association

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National Portrait Gallery cuts ties with BP after more than 30 years

London gallery ends partnership as protests continue at other cultural institutions
Protestors at a blockade outside the BP Portrait Award ceremony in 2019
Protestors at a blockade outside the BP Portrait Award ceremony in 2019 Diana More

The National Portrait Gallery and BP have announced that their long-running partnership will end in December this year when the current contract runs out.

The oil and gas company has sponsored the London institution’s BP Portrait Award since 1989, but the partnership has come under increasing pressure in recent years following campaigns to end fossil fuel sponsorship of arts and culture.

In 2019, the artist Gary Hume resigned from the award’s judging panel over the issue, and a blockade by the anti-oil activist group BP or not BP? forced guests to climb over a wall to enter the awards ceremony. Eighty leading artists subsequently signed a letter calling on the gallery to cut ties with BP.

In 2020 the gallery confirmed that there would be no BP representative on the judging panel that year. The BP Portrait Award is not being staged in 2021 and 2022 while the National Portrait Gallery’s building is closed for redevelopment.

The gallery’s director, Nicholas Cullinan, said: “The gallery is hugely grateful to BP for its long-term support of the BP Portrait Award. Its funding for the award has fostered creativity, encouraged portrait painting for over 30 years and given a platform to artists from around the world, as well as providing inspiration and enjoyment for audiences across the UK.

“The gallery is committed to working with artists and continuing to promote portraiture and we look forward to developing the future Portrait Award as we plan for our reopening in 2023.”

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Bayryam Bayryamali, from BP or not BP?, said: “We’re delighted that the National Portrait Gallery has finally seen the bigger picture and dropped BP. There is no way that our national cultural institutions should be legitimising oil companies in the midst of a climate crisis.”

Jess Worth, co-director of the anti-oil group Culture Unstained, said the decision was “clearly a vote of no confidence in BP’s business”.

Campaigners have vowed to continue piling pressure on cultural institutions that maintain links with BP and other oil companies, including the British Museum and the Science Museum.

Bayryamali added: “This is the latest huge win for the movement against fossil fuel sponsorship, and leaves the British Museum and Science Museum looking isolated and out of touch.”

Environmental activists from BP or Not BP staged a spoof protest last week calling on the British Museum to drop BP sponsorship Ron Fassbender

Earlier this month, a letter signed by more than 300 archaeologists was submitted to the trustees of the British Museum asking them to cut ties with BP ahead of the opening of the blockbuster exhibition, The World of Stonehenge, which is sponsored by the oil company. A demonstration by BP or Not BP? was staged last week during the opening of the exhibition, when protestors presented mock plans to drill for oil under the neolithic site.

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A Channel 4 news report last week alleged that an advisory group of business leaders, including fossil fuel executives, has “direct and largely unaccountable access” to the British Museum’s director and chairman to discuss key policy issues in unrecorded meetings.

A museum spokesman told the programme that the museum regarded the assertions as “inaccurate” and said: “Claims that the British Museum is inappropriately influenced by any donations or sponsorship are simply incorrect… We follow best practice and fully comply with charitable law.”    

In a previous statement, the British Museum has said: “The British Museum receives funding from BP, a long-standing corporate partner, to support the museum’s mission, providing public benefit for a global audience through their support for galleries, education facilities, curatorial posts and research projects. Without external support much programming and other major projects would not happen. The British Museum is grateful to all those who support its work in times of reduced funding.

“The director and trustees think carefully about the nature and quality of sponsorship before accepting. There is a copy of the British Museum's acceptance of donations policy on our website: Acceptance of Donations and Sponsorship Policy.”

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